“Devotion” is often defined as being ardently dedicated or loyal to something or someone; something that takes a great deal of personal time and energy. This is a perfect snapshot of what a “devotional” is designed for. A devotional is a book for your private time with God—to help you focus on Scripture and your relationship with the Lord.
Most devotionals include a scripture, a prayer, a picture, a reflection written by an author, sometimes questions to ponder or a combination of any or all these elements to be read slowly, one day at a time, as an encouragement, awareness, teach a truth, or even sometimes a conviction. These books are intended to help you open your heart and mind to receive what God wants to speak to you that day.
The author is sharing his/her thoughts of God’s love to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth and wisdom. Most of the time it will take just a few minutes to accomplish, but they are a small slice of wisdom or inspiration to take into your day. Quite often, you might find the words speak to your heart and mind in such a personal way it’s a like a “just what I needed” moment. God loves you that much! He cares about every aspect of your life and knows what you need when you need it.
Now, a good devotional will enhance your reading of God’s Word, the Bible, but not replace it. See it as an extra time of reflection of God’s love and goodness for you, every day. They can be marvelously written; however, they are intended to increase your desire to draw closer to God and walk in greater freedom and worship not become a substitute. The author or examples are less important than what the words convey to your heart about God and His truth.
Here’s an example of a devotional by MHorst:
1 John 3:16
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
Laying it down
Many of us have heard this passage numerous times and may even be able to quote it. It’s a lovely expression of how we are to love others. We hear it as we sit at funerals or read on the internet of a firefighter who was killed in a wildfire while sparing countless lives; a peace officer who stepped in front of a bullet to shield a civilian; a whole military troop who saved a village by giving all they could give; a stranger running into a burning building saving a child but themselves did not make it. These are heroes. These are people that were willing to lay down their lives for others. And we ask ourselves, are we that brave?
But this passage is so much more. The words, “By this” has us looking at the chapter and verses before it. We learn that:
- God, The Father and Jesus, the Son are one
- The blood that Jesus shed cleanses us from our sin if we accept Him
- He abides in us and we can walk in new LIFE
- We are called to not love the sin because you are holy
- Because of Christ, we can overcome sin and Satan
- We are anointed; we are His children
- Christ lives in us so we are made righteous (not something we do, something He does)
- God is love and He is in us so we are to love others like He loves
For those of you who like bottom lines, this is it: We are Loved. Loved-Loved.
Christ died on the cross to give us life. It wasn’t free, it cost Him everything. He exchanged His life for our sin. Ours. Yours. Those who are dead spiritually. But when we receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we who were dead, are now alive. And because He lives in us…we represent him. We are love and thus we have the power to love others sacrificially. It’s not easy because we are still human…but we have His power in us to do so. To lay down our lives. It’s a choice.
So, the summary of “by this” in this verse is that our love should be like His love and with that, we should be willing to lay down our lives for Him and for others as He did for us.
Not just when there is a heroic need; but every day.
Lay your life down to Christ.
How? Maybe start by recognizing and praying, “Lord, this life I lead is not my own, it’s you in me. I give you my life.”
Love like Jesus. Sacrificially. Putting others ahead of yourself. (Not in a doormat, co-dependent way, but in a loving, respectful way.)
And dying to yourself.
What does that mean? That means that you agree to do things God’s way and follow His plan even if it is contrary to your own idea.
Ask the Lord to show you what you need to “die to” to follow Him completely; to love him unconditionally.
Ask the Lord to show you who you need to love like Jesus; to love that person sacrificially.
“Lord, because you have given all to me, let me lay down my life to you and love others with your love, even when I don’t want to, even when I am inconvenienced, even when I really don’t care for the person…I want them to see you. Help me step aside so you shine. And if I must ever give my physical life away to save others, help me to be brave.”
Some devotionals are shorter, some longer, but they come in all shapes and sizes. You can find devotionals from classic authors (like St. Francis, Charles Spurgeon or CS Lewis, etc…), about a certain theme (for instance if you are struggling with being a mom of toddlers or in a work environment that isn’t godly, etc…), a particular discipline (like rest, Sabbath, celebration, etc…), a fruit of the Spirit (like love, joy, peace, patience, etc…), or just loving God. There are devotionals for women, for men, for children…the list goes on. God is interested in meeting you where you are, and there are endless ways to do so through devotionals.
Finding a devotional is as easy as typing in “devotionals” into your favorite URL or retail website. (I found 90,000 when I typed it into amazon.com.) You don’t have to even have a book, you can sign up for online or audio devotionals as well—for free most of the time. There’s really no reason not to try out this discipline.
Some advice: Don’t do too many at once (if you are like me, you’ll be tempted.) Take a sip from the well, don’t drink from a fire hose. Incorporating this into your quiet time as one part and it will allow you time to read your Bible and pray too.
When a scripture is referenced:
- Take the time to read the verse or chapter to understand the context.
- Pray it through.
- Ask, what does this say to my life, right now?
- Thank Him when you get an answer.
- Ponder and meditate it through your day.
- Share it with someone.
- Put whatever wisdom you glean into practice.
Enjoy your time and, as with all Disciplines, do this in a spirit of freedom-a tool to draw you closer to God not check off a list of deeds to do to be a “good Christian.” Christ is the only one to make us good and He did that work on the cross. Our only “task” is to be near Him and love Him with our whole hearts.